"I've got some ambition - is that against me?"
"You've got too damn much. You're not satisfied to stay within your limits. You want to come into my company. You want to come into my family. What the hell is it you don't want?"
"Not much," admitted Toodles, with a becoming modesty.
"Not much is right," growled the Bear, and when the Bear growled everybody in Los Angeles quaked and made haste to make distance. Toodles stood his ground. He had two tremendous things at stake. The only two things that mattered to him in all his life, that ever had mattered, that ever would matter. He was a happy youth, Toodles, and life was all rose and bright gold, but underneath things, down in the still places a chap doesn't show nor talk about, he knew that if he didn't win the Bear's delectable daughter, familiarly styled the "Cub" by her ferocious father's intimates, and if he didn't make good on the forthcoming race, the rose of things would be pretty blurry and the gold pretty badly tarnished. He had loved the sloe-eyed, slender, desirable Cub ever since she had been lanky, leggy and squawky and rather painfully adolescent. Toodles had loyalty and persistency, if he did have fair hair and baby-blue eyes and an Arrow-collar-ad general appearance.
All this, of course, the Cub found irresistible, but the Bear matters to scoff at.
Still further, the Bear had been king of the races for a long stretch of time. It was more painful than the gout, which was profanely painful enough, for him to admit his encroaching years, to admit this too-encroaching agile youth, with his cloud-like self-confidence and his abounding and brazen love for the Cub. He felt, like Ibsen, and with something of the same shrinkage, that "the younger generation" was knocking at his door.
The young upstart had asked for the Cub before, variously and vehemently. Variously and still more vehemently he had been refused, scorned, reviled and all but kicked out, which last indignity was spared him only because the gout happened to have settled in the Bear's right pedal extremity.
Now, he was vociferously demanding that he be allowed to pilot the Darco car on the Bear's third sensational Santa Monica Road Race.
The Bear had decided to be drastic.
"I want a pilot!" he roared, biting off a third of his expensive cigar with each word. "I want a blooming mechanician - I want an expert - with me! D'ye think I can afford giving a joy-ride to a mooning calf? D'ye? Say! I'm not the Bear . . . I'm not the record-breaker . . . I haven't peppered these old roads for fifteen years for nothing! I'm winning this race, sonny-boy, not playing tag with pretty babies."
Young Toodles couldn't help his sky-blue eyes nor his coloring. He could help his muscles - and he had. They were whipcord and steel under his jaunty blouse. If the Bear hadn't been, by some incomprehensible misadventure, the father of the lissome Cub, there - well, there wouldn't have been any Bear to win the Santa Monica Road Race.
Toodles smarted violently with a nausea of rank injustice. He qualified. He knew that he did. He qualified for the race, which was his chance. He qualified for the Cub, who was his love. He knew his Darco. He knew the road. He knew every screw and rivet, every cylinder and spoke. He was keen, fearless, steady and sure. He was clean, too - clean, idealistic and safe and sane. He was fit for the Darco car. He was fit for the Bear's Cub.
He told her so, at a dance, that same night.
"How'd you come by such a father?" he ended up, miserably.
"It wasn't my fault," reminded the Cub, gently.
"Won't you elope?" begged Toodles. "I know . . . but in some cases there is justification. I'm getting there. I'd do fine if he would only give me a chance. He stands between me and my chance like a block of stupid, unyielding wood . . . he . . . oh, darling!"
"He's been both daddy and mother to me," reminisced the Cub, considering sundry minor instances.
"Then," said Toodles, "I'll win him. I'll win him if I smash his measly record to atoms, tear up the Santa Monica Road to a ribbon and splinter the Darco in the bargain. . . kiss me, little wonderful . . ."
Toodles had no need to carry out the second installment of his dire treble threat. The Darcos, en route on the Limited, smashed themselves, beautifully and completely, to atoms. To wholly unusable atoms.
The Bear retired into the remotest recesses of his cave and emitted fearful noises. The race was off, he was off; for all he knew or cared, the whole world was off.
Toodles maintained silence. Once, grimly, he begged for the job of general manger. The Bear merely glared. Toodles threw the job he held in the Bear's enraged face and posted off to look over the wreckage. The wreckage wasn't so worse, decided Toodles. He sniffed contemptuously. The Bear hadn't thought of that - sign of age - at the first disaster he had just retreated into his cave and growled. All the essential parts were there. Toodles wired for Tom Darby, the Darco's best mechanician.
Darby came and the two toiled unmercifully. Darby sullenly, at first , and then with a growing zeal.
"The old boy'll lose an eye over this," he commented.
"He'll lose the race without this," snorted the perspiring and bearishly profane Toodles.
Toodles and Darby crept into the garage with the renovated Darco at Los Angeles in the concealing dusk the night before the race. The Bear, they learnt, hadn't been down to the office that day. "Gout and the grouch of this thing has got him for fair," volunteered Wheeler, one of the older men. "The Bear has had a Darco in this here race riot ever since there was one. Pretty hard on the old chap - the Darco's won the last two. Tough, if I do say it."
That night the Cub was giving a dance.
Toodles danced with her in a strange excitement. "Can't you tell me?" she begged.
"You'll see," he promised her. "Are you going to kiss me - once for luck?"
She did - but it was not for luck. The Bear happened to be passing, and the kiss was not lingering. He told Toodles a few oft-repeated things.
"If you do something," he bellowed, "something beside mooning and mushing over my girl, you might get somewhere. Win a race! You are too damned soft to win a potato race. Get a man, Cub, if you must, but get a regular guy! Good god!" And still emitting sparks of fire and brimstone, the Bear retreated just in time for the kiss to resume its continuity. Still later, the Bear sought out the Cub in her lace and baby-pink den. She was in bed, reading the latest bestseller and eating indigestible nuts and chocolates. She looked bewilderingly pretty. She made the gruff old Bear's heart misgive him. It was hard to be crusty with the visionary, foolish, adorable Cub. "I want you to have a man, Cub," he began, without preamble. "Your mother always said about me that I had crude ways, she knew, and was rough in spots and not just polished off, perhaps, but I was a man, stern stuff, raw, but stern. That's what a real woman wants, Cub, a worth-while man - she wants man-stuff. This pretty doll - pouf!"
The Cub stirred restively. The "pretty doll's" rather stern, raw kiss was still pulsing and vital on her mouth. She assumed a prettily contemplative expression. She stretched forth a conciliatory hand.
"Can't a man ever be a man . . . really . . . and look nice?" she asked.
The Bear knit his beetling brows.
"Can't he, Bear-daddy?" she asked again. Then still more softly, "Dad, I . . . I love him. I can't help it, Bear-man, I do. Just like . . . just the same as . . . mummy loved . . . you."
The Bear was silenced. He was always silenced by talk of this sort. Cub had gleaned the silken, malicious knowledge from her wise, long-dead young mother - learnt it by swift feminine instinct.
The Bear fiddled about, largely and ineffectually.
"He's a doll," he declared again, "a doll . . . not a man . . . at all."
He departed - and the Cub snuggled among he cushions and smiled and resumed her chocolates and her bestseller, which was all about a tall and slender youth with eyes like a June sky and hair like a July sun.
The Bear was not profane, but wholly inarticulate, when, the day following a spiffy new Darco appeared among the competing cars with Toodles debonairly in the pilot's seat and Darby as the grinning mechanician.
When he had regained partial control of his vocal organs, the Bear sprinted over to the Darco.
"Climb out!" he raged at the cool Toodles.
"After the race, chief," crisply said Toodles.
"You'll lose for me, damn you. You'll kill the Darco. You'll . . . it's my car. Get the hell out!"
"It's my car. I salvaged it from the wreckage. You accepted payment from the express company for damages. You're out of this. I made this Darco. I'm entering it. It's my race and I'm going to win. If you attempt to stop me, I'll right ride over your fat carcass, so help me gawd!"
Strong language for a "pretty doll."
The Bear stood aside, perforce. He was gouty, and he was sore, he was confident of defeat, and he was seething, but he was not quite ready for total extinction.
Word reached Los Angeles some little time later that the Darco car with "Toodles' Waldron as pilot had won the Santa Monica Road Race.
The Bear heard of it in his private office. Quite terrifyingly he lapsed into tears. The Cub rushed in to him and they jubileed in each other's arms. The Darco had won! Nor wreckage, nor delaying, nor the absence of the Bear had been able to obliterate her. Good old Darco! Good ol - well, if it must be, good old Toodles!
The Bear made Toodles general manger. It was a fat job, with a fatter salary and considerable of prestige and glory. A Toodles and a Cub, both sickeningly in love, might have lived very paradisically thereon. But, the Bear explained, fully and in detail, the Cub did not go with the general managership. The Cub was still unattainable.
"It's not playing fair," groaned Toodles, who had won the Santa Monica Road Race with the lovely face of the Cub as lodestar and goal; "it's squelching . . ."
The Bear emitted an olden growl. "Even a general manger can be fired," the growl signified, "if the Bear says so."
Toodles was stilled. The general managership was not to be tomfooled away. Cubs need a great many futile, delicious, extravagant things. General managerships make these things possible.
Things simmered for several weeks. The Cub began to look pale and pining. Toodles fell off on his food. The Bear growled incessantly. Things were desperate.
Then came much talk of he record race from Los Angeles to San Francisco against the fast Express. Toodles declared his intention of entering with the Darco car.
The Bear declared against it. Toodles argued violently. He said a great deal about publicity, fame everlasting, endurance tests, speed limits, all sorts of tings. The Bear was mulish rather than bearish.
Toodles turned white. "You're acting this way because it is me," he proclaimed loudly and heatedly. "I've done more for your damned Darco than any one ever has done before or will be likely to do again. This is your chance, your big chance, to put the Darco everlastingly in the limelight. You don't see it. You won't see it. Because you're not in it, too, -- and I am. You're antediluvian. You're done for. Wake up - or I quit."
"Quit then," spat the Bear.
The Cub cried herself to sleep that night. Toodles had not come near her. Some one had let fall the juicy fact that Toodles had declared himself done with the Bear breed - that he was going gunning after human beings. The Cub felt suicidal. She thought of death with a pleasant yearning.
The Bear sat up half the night, smoking, in a sodden gloom. The following morning he learnt that a law, which was to go into effect within four days, prohibited further racing in California. His Eastern drivers would arrive too late to enter the Darco. None knew better than he knew himself that he was quite incapable. Only Toodles could have done it - doll-baby Toodles, with his grim young face and his devil's speed. Toodles, whom he had let go, because of a nasty, back-biting jealousy; because, with the right of his youth and his vim, he wanted the Bear's Cub - wanted the Bear's outgrown chance. "It's this gout! Groaned the thwarted Bear; "its this damned, outrageous gout!"
Later he took a Darco and sought out Toodles. To Toodles he appealed. But Toodles had been stabbed right thru. He had tried his very damndest for the old Bear. He had tried first of all, for the trying's sake and because he was attached to the bully old Darco and could have been attached to the grouchy old Bear, leaving all considerations of the Bar's Cub outside. But the Bear would none of him. The Bear had been a squelcher. Hadn't played fair. One could have enough of such dealings. One, Toodles, had - quite enough. He told the Bear so, squarely between the eyes. The Bear limped off.
Late that night Tom Darby sought out Toodles. He found Toodles only after a rather involved search. He found him in jail.
"How?" gasped Darby, in dismay. "What the ---"
"Exactly," said Toodles. "I got all ready to bust inside. I've had - had too much. Everything. Rotten. I took out the old Darco and tore the road to ribbons and then tore it over again. I wanted to tear my own heart out . . . It's softer than pulp. They hauled me in. Here I stay."
"Bail . . . ventured Darby.
"No good," sighed Toodles; then, resignedly, "I'm as well off here as I would be anywhere now."
"Helluva mess," commented Darby, without apparent sympathy, and departed. He departed, oddly enough, to the lair of the Bear. The Bear had the look he had been wont to have in the days when he was planning things . . . scheming and plotting . . . he and Darby did a lot of whispering . . .
An hour or so later, Darby returned with an acetylene torch and some quick action. After he had released the apathetic Toodles, he succinctly informed him that the Bear had stolen the Cub away and deported her to California, thence, no doubt, to Japan, or even China. . .
"We can make it," added Darby with enormous detachedness, "in the Darco."
Toodles' young face became a grim mask. He was all swift action.
"Mechanician?" he asked of Darby.
"Righto," agreed Darby, innocently.
"It means the new record if we do it," said Toodles. "It means that, Darby, and . . ."
"And the Bear's Cub," added Darby, solemnly; "I'd stake my oath on that, Toodles."
"We're off!" shouted Toodles, " and God be with us!"
God was. They tore the breath from their bodies, the soul from the violated road, the life from the Darco racer, but they broke the unbreakable record and skidded madly into San Fran' three minutes before the Flyer. The Darco was made famous overnight.
On the platform stood the Bear and the Bear's Cub. They held out their hands to Toodles, grimed, caked, hoarse, triumphant. The Bear was grinning. The Cub had been crying noisily and with abandon. Toodles thought her glorious.
"This was a put-up job,": admitted the Bear; "I wanted you to do it, young man, you have . . ."
"You won the race," said the Cub, with hero-worship.
"And you," gasped Toodles, all the world forgotten, "and you . . .?"
The Cub looked at the Bear. The Bear looked at the Cub. Both Cub and Bear looked at Toodles. They saw, for the first time, the same thing. Under the sweat and grime, under the dirt and fatigue of grit and triumph they saw - a man.
"And me," said the Cub, very softly. "Oh, Toodles . . ."
"Amen," said the Bear, "let's get some grub."
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